'The Long Waited, Weighted, Gathering': Sharman Kadish, a leading expert in Jewish heritage, explores the new Manchester Jewish Museum, housed in an extension to the city's Victorian synagogue, which has undergone complete restoration and currently hosts an exhibition by the Turner Prize winning artist Laure Prouvost.

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Author: Sharman Kadish
Date: Autumn 2021
From: Art and Christianity(Issue 107)
Publisher: ACE Trust
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,634 words
Lexile Measure: 1480L

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It is easy to see why the reopening of Manchester Jewish Museum was timed to coincide with the Manchester International Festival and why an art installation by a Turner Prize-winning video artist was commissioned as its centrepiece. The museum's complete make-over and the building of a new extension has been paid for chiefly, but not solely, by the National Lottery. Thus, the museum is obliged to transcend the 'nicheness' of its name to appeal to a larger, more diverse and, supposedly, more sophisticated audience. Certainly, Laure Prouvost's offering has greatly assisted in marketing the museum on its relaunch, if wide coverage in the national media is a reliable indicator of success. However, the exhibition cannot be divorced from its larger context.

Prouvost's film-based installation is made up of several elements besides the film itself. The large video screen has an embroidered and painted covering that utilises clever electronics to make its four 'wings' unfurl like a bird's. These wings take up themes and symbols presented in the film and carry inscriptions in a mixture of Hebrew, English and Ladino, the language of the Sephardi Jews of medieval Spain and Portugal. Richly dyed feathers and fabrics hang from a pair of old-fashioned wooden coat stands that flank the screen (which, along with the plate of unfinished biscuits left on top of the balcony at the other end of the space, makes one think at first that they are hands-on props put there for the benefit of young visitors: the army of room attendant volunteers will need to keep an eye on them!). Look upwards and spot several birds, sculpted in polished stone, perched in the rafters.

Birds are the strongest visual metaphor used in the film. They represent the Sephardi Jewish women of the past who would have peopled the gallery of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in north Manchester and, according to the interpretation provided, had a 'bird's eye' view of the service being conducted by the men below. Their families were migrants 'moving from place to place, trying to grow roots' (to quote [correctly, I hope] a line that resonated from the film script). The women sit sewing and gossiping over tea about their families and the lives they have led. Every so often, one of them, standing, holds up a photograph of a lost building and talks about the part it played in their Jewish experience of Manchester.

The cinematography is multi-layered in a way that produces a dreamy effect, drugged even, and slightly surreal. The women actors, in reality, are members of the Jewish Museum Textile Group who embroidered the 'wings' for the video screen, as their ancestors would have embroidered the Parokhet (curtain) for the Torah Ark in the synagogue. They are depicted around a table that levitates on a cloudy Manchester sky, through which the sunlight manages to break only sporadically. The camera pans up into the sky and down into the water. There is a storm. Sheep and racehorses gallop across the screen. The...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A676632975